Polio Has Been Diagnosed in the US For the First Time in a Decade
By Nicole Blattman
A case of poliovirus has been diagnosed in Rockland County, New York.
Polio has not been seen in the US since 2013.
The infected 20-year old has been infected with a vaccine-derived strain of the virus, most likely from someone vaccinated outside of the US.
Poliovirus can cause milder flu-like symptoms, or more severe symptoms such as paralysis.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. Since 2013, the disease hasn’t been seen in the US– until now. Health officials in Rockland County, New York stated that the diagnosed patient is experiencing paralysis due to a vaccine-derived strain of the poliovirus. This strain was most likely contracted from someone who was vaccinated with a live attenuated vaccine, which is not available in the US. The infected 20-year old has not recently traveled internationally, nor has he been vaccinated.
Symptoms of Polio
As mentioned, polio is a disease caused by the poliovirus. It can be transmitted from person-to-person. Most people who are infected will not experience any symptoms; however, about 25% will. Common symptoms may include: sore throat, fever, nausea, tiredness, headache, and/or stomach pain. These symptoms should resolve within 2-5 days.
An even smaller amount of people infected, less than 1%, can develop more disabling symptoms if the virus has reached their brain or spinal cord. These may include: paresthesia (a prickling feeling like pins and needles in the legs), meningitis (infection in the area that covers the brain and/or spinal cord), and/or paralysis (weakness in the arms, legs, or both). Paralysis is the most grave symptom of polio, as the muscles that help someone breathe are susceptible to paralysis. If these muscles become paralyzed, the infected person will most likely die. About 2-10% of those who experience paralysis from the poliovirus die.
The infected patient in New York started experiencing symptoms a month ago, and is now experiencing paralysis. Although polio can spread from person-to-person, the 20-year old is no longer contagious. However, it is unknown whether it has already spread to others who may be contagious.
How to Stay Safe
The best way to prevent infection of polio is to get vaccinated. The polio vaccination was introduced in 1955, and was able to bring annual cases of polio in the US to less than 100 in the 1960s, and to less than 10 in the 1970s. By the end of the 70s, polio was declared eradicated in the United States, with no more routine spread of the disease. The vaccination remained effective, with infrequent cases of polio showing up almost exclusively from international travelers. The last case of polio in the US appeared in 2013 in a 7-month-old infant who had recently moved to Texas from India.
Both the 2022 and 2013 case of polio came from a strain of the virus found in the live attenuated vaccine. The US, along with many other countries, use an inactivated version of the vaccination, and thus, it should not be a concern that getting the US-version of the vaccine may result in infection. It is recommended to receive four, or at least three, doses of the vaccine at 2-months old, 4-months old, 6-18-months old, and between 4 and 6-years old.